Top 5 what-if’s in Orlando Magic history
What If Nick Anderson didn’t miss 4 consecutive free throws?
In Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals, the Orlando Magic were up 20 points on their homecourt before everything that could go wrong did. The Magic came out in the second half flat, their lead evaporated, and with 10 seconds left in the game, they were clinging to only a 3-point advantage.
In the game’s closing seconds, Nick Anderson, the first-ever draft pick in Magic franchise history, was heading to the line to shoot two free throws and put the game away. Just making one would give the Magic a four-point lead and almost certainly a 1-0 Finals record over Hakeem Olajuwon and the defending champion Houston Rockets.
Anderson would infamously miss both, get his own rebound and head to the line once more to repeat the same situation. Once again, all the Magic needed was one free throw to clinch the game. But once again, Nick Anderson would come up short.
After Orlando missed four consecutive free throws, Kenny Smith knocked down his eighth 3-point shoot of the game with 1.6 seconds left and snt the contest to overtime.
Once there, the Magic’s psyche and confidence were shattered. Despite Horace Grant trying to get the mentality of his teammates back to a positive place, the damage was done and the Magic never re-established themselves as a presence in the series.
The Magic would lose Game 1 on an Olajuwon tip-in with less than a second left and were ultimately swept 4-0. The downfall of what could have been a special and historic dynasty for Central Florida’s team was now in motion.
What could have gone differently?
There are probably countless Magic fans who still wake up in a cold sweat thinking about it: But what if Nick Anderson made one of those four free throws?
The first piece is obvious. Orlando almost certainly wins Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals if Anderson does not miss all four shots from the charity stripe. Orlando may have had to sweat a bit more, but the team would still have the confidence that it could compete on this highest stage. They would still be the favorites to win the title that year.
Whether the Magic would eventually win the series or not, the element of not being swept would likely have had a positive impact on the morale of the roster. Based on the players’ comments from the “This Magic Moment” documentary, it seemed imposter syndrome hit an all-time high for the team after blowing their huge Game 1 lead.
If the Magic had stayed competitive in the series (the Magic lost Game 2 by 11 points, Game 3 by three and Game 4 by 12 – winning a title is something Shaquille O’Neal and company may have had an increased desire to accomplish together in Orlando, rather than shake their confidence in the goal entirely.
As the credits roll during “This Magic Moment,” Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway have a conversation by the pool about what things would have been like if they stayed together.
O’Neal says they would have won multiple championships and had they won then there would have never been a breakup in Orlando. Bittersweet words for any Magic fan because the truth is he is probably right.
O’Neal was destined to win titles. The “where” of it all is what is fun to consider.
The butterfly effect of Nick Anderson missing four consecutive free throws helped contribute to the Magic losing its first-ever finals game, its first-ever finals series and ultimately led to the premature loss of the best player to ever wear a Magic jersey.
Had this fork in the road gone a different way, the Magic either win the 1995 Finals and/or retain O’Neal long enough to win multiple others.